March 22, 2010 | BITE: My Journal

Brooklyn! Come Hungry: Pies 'n' Thighs

       Crusty and juicy is how I like my bird’s thigh. Photo: Steven Richter

        Bloggers have been bleating about Pies ‘n’ Thighs, two of my favorite things. It caught foodiotic attention dishing up crusty chicken in the dining room of the Rock Star Bar, in an open concrete yard behind a chain-link fence. Waiting for its rebirth massaged the myth. During torturous delays, the mythic bird was available at Roberta’s in Bushwick and the legend flowered. By the time the trio of chef owners – Sarah Buck, Carolyn Bane and Erika Geldzahler – finally fired up the smoker on South Fourth Street, the opening rivaled the newest from Danny or Keith. But I don’t cross bridges without a reservation. I don’t even go to the Village without a confirmed table.

  There is no preference here for age or distance traveled. Photo: Steven Richter

        Frankly, the Road Food Warrior and I would not be chewing on this fabulous drum stick and swooning over the unlikely combo of tenderest brisket and mayo on marvelous toast, if Brooklyn-domiciled Eddie Schoenfeld, the restaurant guru, hadn’t said he’d be driving around Manhattan and would pick us up. He’d been wanting to try Pies ‘n’ Thighs, too. A fast right off the bridge, a left past Peter Luger, we luck into a parking spot and there it is, that rectangle of light, but…uh oh…what are those anxious clots of young’ns pawing the bluestone outside? No, you dreamer, they are not hanging around because they just finished eating and don’t know where to go next. They are waiting for a table. Surely Eddie knows someone, I think, and called ahead so that our name is already on the list. Not. I watch him lobbying. But there will be no concessions to age or distance traveled. We are the fifth party on the list, about a 40 minute wait.

        “Of course we’re not waiting,” I say.

        “Forty minutes. Forget it,” says Ed’s wife Elisa.

        “What’s near here?” Steven asks. “Shall we go to Fiore?”

        Eddie doesn’t answer. He stares inside as a fivesome peel away from a corner heading toward an empty table.

        “Eddie, not forty minutes,” I protest. “I didn’t realize they wouldn’t know you.”

        “Where can we go?” Steven repeats.

        Eddie ignores us. It’s one of those wanna stay but gotta go moments.

        Four people get up from a bench just inside and follow the keeper of the list through a back door.

It's chilly in this garage but we're meek and grateful for a table. Photo: Steven Richter

       I’m going to let Elisa argue for sanity. I grab the vacated bench below a shelf of toy trucks and parts of toy trucks and pots of tulips and orchids. Elisa sits beside me. “We’re not waiting 40 minutes,” she says.

        Eddie sidles off toward the kitchen. He seems to be chatting up the list keeper. He returns sipping iced tea from a tall plastic cup. “There’s another room,” he says. “It’s bigger than this one. Anyone want tea?” He holds out a Trail Mix cookie. Elisa breaks off a piece and hands it to me. Not my idea of an amuse, but a very good cookie.

        And then…a miracle. It is we who are being summoned, led past the frenetic kitchen athletes and the unabashed garbage area into… well, what do you know? It’s the garage full of noisy campers. It’s a little chilly out here with bare brick walls and concrete floor, but we’ve dressed for early spring. We settle on odds and ends of chairs at a crackled vintage pale green kitchen table, with its drawer torn out to make way for our knees, and study the menu.

Grease, fat and salt, the three essential food groups. Photo: Steven Richter

        “How many pieces come in the $10 fried chicken box?” we ask our waitress. Three pieces, so we better get two boxes for our four. Eddie convinces Elisa she doesn’t really want the catfish box by letting her choose a side: collards along with our picks, baked beans, cole slaw and mac ‘n’ cheese.

        It’s the kind of meal that makes you grateful you thrive on the three main food groups: fat, salt and sugar. It’s the Fourth of July - in March - as the table top fills up. And it’s plates, not boxes actually, with a tower of big, fat, crackling thighs and a chunky leg, alongside a jumbo biscuit – alas, sadly stale and dry. Shouldn’t it be moist and crumbly just out of the oven? But all that dark meat for our dark bird lovers. No need to kill each other over who gets stuck with the breast. And slices of juicy brisket slathered with mayo inside thick slices of toast is an astonishment…an ohmygod moment.

Brisket with mayo on toast. Yes, it's fabulous. Pulled pork less so. Photo: Steven Richter

        None of us are wild about the vinegar-tinged Carolina pulled pork sandwich. Tabasco tossed into macaroni and cheese is a perversion to me, never mind how many yelps of joy it scores among the great unwashed bloggers. I don’t like minced cole slaw but the sweet collards and baked beans are fine. The lemonade and iced tea are solid too, not too sweet; the tea, not overbrewed. I suppose for the sake of research I should have tried a glass of the wine made in France by Sarah Buck’s sister. Imagine what a romp we’re having for just $20 a person, all included.

        Everyone is sweet and not at all patronizing just because we’re clearly out of our element, a few of us old enough to pass as subway seniors. Even the list guy I take my turn pestering cracks a grin. As if they all just arrived from a small town in South Carolina and haven’t yet bitten into the poisoned apple. Megan, our server with her garden of tattoos, never stops smiling as she races up and down the garage steps. “You’ve got it,” she says. And “I’ve heard you; it’s on its way.” Of course we’re curious and admire the art work. She did it herself, she says. No, she’s not a student or an actor, she’s a nurse. She followed her love from Canada and is waiting for her accreditation to come through.

Megan's tattoos and pies are the point here. Banana cream and apple. Photo: Steven Ricther

        We ask her for pie recommendations. Apple and banana are everyone’s favorite, she says. Indeed, the banana cream triangle is fine and tart slices of apple, neither too firm nor too sloppy, are delicious layered into a substantial buttery crust. It occurs to me that I ought to taste more pies. Uncharacteristically, I choose restraint. I am deliriously happy. I’ve loved visiting this alternative existence. But I probably won’t be back. I’ll miss not trying chicken on a biscuit or the “Insane Burger” (with cheese, bacon, an egg and fries), hash and egg at brunch or the famous donut.

        Pies ‘n’ Thighs is best left to the millennials, as sociologists refer to the twenty and thirty year-olds, preferably those who live not so far away and love rubbing up against each other and schmoozing for however long it takes to score a table and dinner for $20. They can eat fried chicken any night of the week they’re not eating pizza or pork belly or a burger without needing to double the Zantac.

166 South 4th Street at Driggs, next to the Williamsburg Bridge. 347 529 6090. Breakfast Monday through Friday 8 to 11 am. Lunch 11 am to 4 pm. Dinner 5 pm to midnight. Saturday and Sunday brunch 10 am to 4 pm. Closed every day from 4 to 5 pm. 


Monkey Business at Piquant

First-rate guacamole and a duo of Margaritas sooth frayed sensibilities. Photo: Steven Richter

        “I’ve got a gift certificate for dinner at this fabulous Southwestern place in Brooklyn,” my friend Karine said. And off we went, with so many twists and turns in lower Manhattan I wasn’t sure where we were headed. Park Slope, she said, neglecting to mention that she just happened to be the official flack for the launch of Piquant, and then, cunningly, not introducing me by name to the owner who hovered. Neon-lit Flatbush Avenue isn’t the cute little "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" I expect. It is more Only the Dead Know Brooklyn, I decide, rushing inside.

Fluatas and corn tamale with duck confit in mole poblano. Photo: Steven Richter

        I am really annoyed with the big kiss kiss scene at our entrance and want to break her thumbs. But hey, here we are, settled on the raised back level, with guacamole getting the smasheroo alongside us, contemplating a salsa tasting and a stunning assortment of chips and Navajo fry bread in a paper cone. I haven’t come across Navajo fry bread since the Tuba City Truck Stop in Arizona and that fry bread “taco” piled like a pizza wasn’t anywhere near as good as this.

Joining the locals on the upper deck overlooking the garden at Piquant. Photo: Steven Richter

        If only the food had been awful. A night lost. No moral dilemma. Alas, I really love almost everything that hits the table. Perhaps it should be called Picante, but Piquant works for its touch of fusion: provocative, intriguing as well as spicy. Sipping an excellent Margarita, but still sober, I decide not to punish the place for the desperate flim-flam that got me here. It looks a bit like the bar and sandwich shop it used to be – casual and cozy, bare brick, bare tables, with high ceilings and big windows.

Molasses-painted ribs with cole slaw and yucca fries. Photo: Steven Richter

        Don’t ask me about service. As you might imagine we’re getting the long lost cousins treatment, smiles and curtseys and an extra two-top pulled up to park slow roasted beef brisket flautas with guacamole and salsa coloradito since the table is already crowded with artistically-draped and squeegee-bottle-striped sweet potato tamales with pulled pork in green chile sauce poblano and tuna ceviche with mango puree, a crunch of cucumber and radish and fried plantain. Yet distracted as I am, monopolizing the chopped salad – a Southwestern mingle of romaine, roasted corn, black beans, tomato, red onion, poblano, mango, jicama and Cotija cheese in honey-cumin-lime dressing – I look around and see non-cousins at other tables eating, too. Runners are running, hosts are buttering up. Alongside us, first-timers congratulate themselves for coming and promise to return.

Grilled steak tacos with caramelized onions, pico de gallo, Cotija cheese. Photo: Steven Richter

        Marvelous steak tacos tangy from sweet caramelized onions, pico de gallo, roasted tomato salsa and Cotija cheese make me want to taste all the tacos. But now the entrees (mostly $18 to $24) have arrived from a vast menu with prices from $4 for a slider to $95 for a 32 oz. Wagyu Tomahawk steak that serves two. Smartly turned out big eye tuna, rare at the core, with black bean and Oaxaca cheese-topped yucca pupusa is impressive. Grilled salmon with Cotija polenta sticks and shrimp enchiladas in a light cream sauce are good enough, too, but I can’t imagine an evening here without the baby back ribs, slow roasted and then grilled in an ancho molasses barbeque sauce, served with jicama slaw and borracho beans.

Dulce de leche twice on these sweet crepas with cactus pear. Photo: Steven Richter

        From a roster of $6 desserts baked in house, we’ve chosen the apple crisp a la mode with not enough crumb topping and wildly sweet crepas con cajeta with cactus pear and dulce de leche, fruit salsa and dulce de leche ice cream.

        “Tap and Taco Tuesdays” bring $3 tacos and $3 pints, including Negra Modelo on tap, at lunch and dinner. On April lst the garden will open with 120 seats and new umbrellas, music on weekends and an outdoor grill for burgers and steaks. If I’m not rushing back, it’s only because I need to hitch a ride.

259 Flatbush between Sixth Avenue and St Mark’s Place. 718 484 4114 Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 11 pm. Friday 4 pm till 2 am. Saturday and Sunday 10 am till 2 pm.

Providing a continuous lifeline to homebound elderly New Yorkers